Immediately after crossing into Brittany we came to the town of St. Malo. Unfortunately by now I have run out of superlatives so suffice to say our day spent walking the old streets and perusing the many shops was fantastic.
It was here we discovered the ‘beignet’ (like a jam donut but 3 times bigger and filled with any one of yummy fillings). To relieve the guilt we walked all over town and then a couple of km back to Norman.
I can only assume the locals are not all diabetic or obese because they ride everywhere on bicycles.
A little further along the coast the town of Dinan was not as ‘touristy’ as St. Malo but beautiful nonetheless.
Needing to cover a bit more ground we cut inland to the other coast which took us away from the English channel and on to the Bay of Biscay. Here we camped at Carnac, home to the largest collection of menhirs in Europe. Menhir is a geological term for a standing stone that has been erected by ancient civilisations (think Stonehenge).
They range from thigh-high to around 20 feet tall and their purpose is unknown but open to much debate amongst the experts – it usually comes down to either scientific (used to predict solstice for farming) or religious. They mainly date from around 1,000 to 5,000 BC.
We now left the Atlantic coast and drove east until we came to Angers on the Loire river. Unlike the walled cities, rugged coastline and world war memories that we have come to know since we landed in Calais a month ago, the Loire valley offers a totally different experience of magnificent Châteaux, friendly wineries and lush river views.
I must apologise if some of the photos appear to be a little over-processed but the weather was getting worse and as the week progressed we went from partly-cloudy to ugly flat grey to dismal rain, so I have had to wrestle some of the detail out.
The first few Châteaux we visited were impressive enough but the “WOW” just kept getting bigger with each one making the previous one look like a paupers home.
There are hundreds of these Châteaux all through the area, some in better shape than others. As it is impossible to see them all (nor would you want to) I enlisted the help of Google & the Lonely Planet guide and made a short list of around 10 ‘must see’s. Some for their architectural splendour or photographic setting, and others for historical or literary significance.
Not wanting to turn this post into a Châteaux reference book, I’ll just mention the highlights. Without a doubt Château de Villandry had the most magnificent gardens.
As Lionel stated in his comment there are some wonderful Passion (farm stays) in the area and we endeavoured to arrive at one each evening in time for a tasting before setting up camp usually with beautiful views over the vineyards.
Château du Clos Lucé is famous for being where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life. Whilst here he finished some of his paintings and worked on his inventions.
They have done a great job of the grounds around this Château by placing various Da Vinci models around the park thus making it educational as well as beautiful.
Almost rivalling the opulence of Palais Versailles, Château de Chenonceau at one stage belonged to the King’s mistress and then, after his death, his wife (just like modern times).
Cheverny near the end of our Loire adventure offered up the biggest surprise. As we approached the entrance we noticed a few costumed characters and thought what a great way to attract tourists. However, due to the sheer number of them scattered around the grounds (& film crew), it became evident that this was not an ordinary day. I still don’t know exactly what it was about but the best way to describe it is as follows:
It was as if they were part of a special event or film of some sort that had just finished and were told to just wander around the Château and grounds for the rest of the day. They seemed to be under instructions that if anyone pointed a camera at them they were to freeze or strike a pose before continuing on their ramble. They were completely silent and did not mind who photographed or posed with them.
You can’t tell from these images but there were hundreds of tourists around clicking away madly, Deb & I amongst them. It was at the end of this day that the rain really settled in and we took this as a sign to leave the valley and head south to Sarlat & Bordeaux. I will finish this post here even though there are many more photos of costumed characters and interiors in the following slideshow if you’re interested browse the thumbnails or click on any image then use your right & left arrows to navigate.
Join us next time for the Bordeaux region and French Basque Country